Should ministers use other people’s materials?

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church sends out a weekly newsletter intended to “help those in ministry grow healthier churches.”  The most recent newsletter, offers a dangerous prescription for healthy church growth–using other people’s sermons.

Apparently, preaching has become a lot like baking cookies–it is often easier on you and more enjoyable to them if you just use the pre-packaged ingredients rather than trying to make it from scratch. While virtually every minister has borrowed material at some point, reading the following articles may display a shocking new reality to you about how many pastors in America prepare their sermons.

Don’t be original be effective! – Steve Sjogren

A shocking quote in this article from the pastor of the world’s largest church, Paul Cho: “Honestly, I have never given an original message in all my years of ministry here at Yoido Church. Each week, I preach word-for-word messages from either Billy Graham or W.A. Criswell from Dallas First Baptist Church. I can’t afford to not have a home run each weekend when we gather. I don’t trust my own ability to give completely original messages.”

Confessions of an addict: Why I use other pastors’ sermons – Tony Liston

“There are many stories of pastors who plagiarize, and I make no defense of their deception. It’s simply wrong. On the other hand, pastors using other pastors’ sermons is as old as the Church and is not a secret practice. It’s part of our Christian heritage, and it’s part of our handing off the baton.”

Other Pastor’s Sermons–The commentaries of the 21st Century – Rick Warren

“Nobody is original; we all just learn from each other, whether you get it out of a book or get it off of a tape or whatever. We all stand on the shoulders of each other. We’re all on the same team.” 

Before you lose hope in the future of Christian ministry, here is a contrasting view on the topic from Dr. Al Mohler:

“Let Him Who Boasts Boast In This”

So, how should ministers use other people’s material? Materials from others can be useful in one or more of the following areas:

  1. Protection–to help to keep you from establishing an inaccurate or heretical understanding of the text
  2. Dissection–to help to reveal intricacies of the text that you may have missed in your personal study
  3. Connection–to help to pinpoint the component parts of the text and demonstrate their relationships
  4. Application–to help to identify how implications of the text’s meaning are relevant to your audience
  5. Illustration–to help to discover impacting ways of presenting the meaning to your audience

Weightlifters often take protein and other supplements to enhance the results that they are naturally achieving through their own workout efforts. Could you imagine what someone would look like if all their workout consisted of was the consumption of supplements?

Other people’s materials function just like the supplements that weightlifters use–they are intended to enhance the results of your personal efforts, not replace them. Some ministers may need to get back in the weight room!

How can you help your miniesters press on in times of dryness and resist the temptation to plagiarize? Check out this article by Justin Taylor on Between Two Worlds, Plagiarizing in the Pulpit.


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